August 16, 2011

Tiranga, The Indian Tricolour

The Indian flag. The Tricolour. The Tiranga. Tiranga Zhanda.

While some will wear it on their hearts, some will wrap it around their wrists, and seem to embrace it, like they would their own. In colours that bind, emotions of a country run.

Yet others will fly it on their rides about town, letting the breeze make its presence felt as it unfurls the flag for all to see so it can wrap the colours about it and dance in the street. The breeze, ever the flirt.

Still others will grace their glass windows with the Tiranga so that no reflection of those passing by is bereft of an identity, not on this day, never.

Then there’re those who will fill the colours with air, so while they sit together, they threaten mischief should they get in their mind to float away with the clouds.

Until then they’ll sit tight in the breeze the fan whips up in the ceiling.

To be reminded of why we work, some will, like at my place of work from before, adorn the cubicles with the colours of India. Take pride in your work, the country will take pride in you. Not that any of us needed the prompting. But then you never know, not for sure at any rate.

On the street I revel in the flashes of the Indian Tricolour. The streets remember because they cannot afford to forget. Others maybe. But not the streets. No, not the streets.

The history of the Indian flag is like the history of India itself, of choices, and compulsions, in equal measure. The Indian flag evolved with the times, reflecting its times, the struggle for independence from British rule.

From its earliest form in 1906, when it was said to be first hoisted in Calcutta’s Parsee Bagan Square, bearing three horizontal strips of red, yellow, and green, with Vande Mataram gracing the centre, followed by the unfurling in Berlin in 1907 of the flag changed to bearing one lotus instead of eight from before, the rest changing into seven stars denoting the Saptarishi, then the one in 1917 hoisted by Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Annie Besant during the Home Rule movement, bearing five red and four horizontal strips alternately, to the one in 1921 during the AICC session in Vijaywada when Gandhiji advised the youth bearing a new flag design to include white to represent all other communities in addition to the red and green the youth had used to denote the two major communities, Hindus and the Muslims, with the spinning wheel or Charkha at the center, the Indian flag has evolved significantly, events shaping it in as much as it went on to shape events once it became a rallying cry for India's independence from British rule.

It was in 1931 that the flag denoting the three colours, saffron, white, and green, with Gandhiji’s spinning wheel at the center, was adopted by the Indian National Congress party by passing a resolution to the effect, eventually becoming the basis of the national flag that we see today, those I saw on the street earlier in the day.

The only change from then being, Mahatma Gandhi’s beloved spinning wheel, the Charkha, was replaced by the Chakra (wheel) from Emperor Ashoka’s Lion Capital dating back to 250 B.C. The Chakra is also known as Ashoka Chakra. Its significance is central to Buddhism as the Dharmachakra or the Wheel of Law.

Sometimes, when I look at the wheel now, the Ashoka Chakra, in the centre of the flag, a mild tremor runs down the length, for it reminds me of the moment I stood beside the enclosed square in Sarnath (Uttar Pradesh) and peered into the enclosure protecting the original pillar that once held aloft Ashoka’s Lion Capital when he installed it in 250 B.C. in ancient Sarnath, where Lord Buddha preached his first sermon following his enlightenment in Bodh Gaya,.

I remember standing there a long time, gazing at the pillar shorn off its magnificent Lion Capital showing four lions in four directions, now housed in the museum across the road from the enclosure. The base of the pillar, shorn of the regal Lion Capital looked forlorn.

I could’ve reached and touched the jagged edges, remnants of the destruction known to have been wrought over Sarnath by Islamic hordes who rode in to grind into dust India’s ethos and supplant their own twisted one once they had destroyed India's culture, and its civilizational basis derived from an ancient religion. India has lost much. India has survived much. And is surviving much. Now.

I had attempted to make sense of the edicts Emperor Ashoka had issued on the pillar, only succeeding in the translation provided on a board nearby. The edicts on the pillar were in a language I did not understand.

It was hallowed ground, no less, where history, antiquity, and the birth of the very essence of Buddhism intersected to form a glorious memory of our travel to Sarnath.

Later, we had trooped to the museum to admire the Lion Capital. It was a stirring sight, its significance as the National Emblem of the Republic of India was not lost on me. I was not allowed to photograph it. I wish I could’ve.

Make time and visit Sarnath someday. It’s a long way off for most of us, but I’m glad I could. I feel you would feel the same as well. That moment was my tryst with history, antiquity, with Buddhism.

I felt the same way when I meandered in Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad, lolling about the cottage where Mahatma Gandhi lived with his wife, Kasturba Gandhi.

It was quiet when we made our way up the steps, across the platform, past the Charkha (spinning wheel) outside the kitchen before stepping into the courtyard flanked by bare rooms, where Kasturba once lived. Sunlight streamed through the window when I stepped into her room, marking the window on the floor, the protective grills slanting across the floor before lengthening as the Sun began to drop anchor behind the horizon.

Make time and visit Sabarmati Ashram someday. Once there, meander, and reflect. Let time wash over you. Many things you know as facts from history today will take on a deeper meaning once you’re there. Take it from me, you will see some things differently.

On our way out I passed the Charkha (spinning wheel) again. The platform was empty. The platform Gandhi would use in his time there to meet with ashram inmates and visitors.

Now when I look back, after Sarnath and Sabarmati, after first adopting the spinning wheel in the Indian flag, then replacing it with Wheel of Law, I cannot help relate the circle of life to the Chakra (wheel). So much of Hindu thought revolves, not only as in a circle, but as a path of return, along the same curve it had set off on. Back to where it had started from. Back to its reason for existence. Yes, back to its reason, even if there’s much that changed along the way.

The centrality of the absolute is so prevalent, absoluteness so desired. And I see it in the initial adoption of the Charkha, the wheel, even if the significance of its role in awakening India lay in self sufficiency it represented and not in any philosophy pertaining to life or the wheel of life. Gandhi believed that self sufficiency co-relates to independence, one reason why he was for including the Charkha in the Indian flag. Charkha, in effect charting your Karma.

The Chakra. Yes. The Chakra that adorns the Indian flag now. Dharma Chakra. The Wheel of Law. Dharma and Law. Potent.

What you see, you understand. What you understand, you do not forget – Sarnath, Ashoka’s Pillar, the Lion Capital, the Wheel of Law, and Sabarmati Ashram, Gandhi’s Spinning Wheel, the Charkha.

You remember because you cannot forget; you remind so it will not be forgotten; you remember because you will not forget; you remind because it should be remembered; you remember because you should not forget.

You. Me. I. They. Him. Her. Them.


Saffron. White. Green. The colours of the Indian flag are a construct of the nation. They’re not colours that run. They’re colours that’re resident. Colours that inspire. Colours that remind. Colours that’re reminded.

The Indian flag. A rallying cry.

I’m reminded of my idealism growing up, of school, of the flag hoisting ceremony, of the goose pimples as desh bhakti songs lifted the atmosphere, blanking out the Sun at times, at other times piercing the monsoon clouds, thundering in the head until the ears rang to the unifying cry, and the heart swelled with pride, a time to remember the sacrifices made, of the sacrifices to be made, a time when I recognized my country in the flag, and the flag in the country, and the people in its colours, and colours in its people. That was the time. Yes. That was the time.

School time, a time when the closest we came to cynicism was if we carried the Oxford Dictionary along, else it was an alien concept.

As a symbol of unity, the Indian flag is singularly important.

A flag is the face of the faceless. Like me. In it, the multitudes rally around an idea. The idea of India. Of an India. Of the India.

It is a living, breathing thing. Today of all days. Today. Yes, today.


Nona said...

That was very informative. I didn't know many things you had written about before reading this article.

Lynn said...

The moments you describe, in which you stood and reflected about the history of where you were standing, are wonderful. A living, breathing thing - just wonderful.

Connie said...

It was interesting to see all the places you found the flag and the colors. I liked the way you described its importance.

Riot Kitty said...

Agree with Lynn - so much more spiritual than our flag and its bloody history. Gandhi is one of my heroes.

m said...

Informative and inspirational.

Anil P said...

Nona: Thank you.

Lynn: Thank you. The experience at Sarnath where Buddha preached his first sermon, and the moment before the remains of Ashoka's pillar that once held the magnificient Lion Capital, and the one in Gandhi's house in Sabarmati Ashram, incliding the Charkha, both instances inextricably woven into the history of the Indian flag, were particularly memorable.

Daisy: Thank you.

Riot Kitty: Thanks. I suppose it's the country that charts the course of its flag, sometimes good comes out of it, sometimes, it doesn't.

At times it's not the people who choose, it's the circumstances that do. Other times, it's the Govt. that chooses. Never easy.

Marja-leena: Thank you.

Balachandran V said...

One of the most unforgettable images that I carry in my mind is that of the Sandstone Buddha in the Sarnath museum. I was hypnotized by the serenity in his face. That slight twist of his lips, like Mona Lisa, the closed eyes, the broken hands which the guide said was originally a mudra of untying a knot - the knot of the mystery of life... I just couldn't tear myself away from Buddha- I looked at him with such a heartbreaking yearning for nearly an hour and reluctantly left him. Hope you have a photo of that Buddha. I have one picture postcard that I bought from Sarnath.

Independence, India, tricolour - Nothing has been so much more abused and vandalized that despite the noble feeling of love for one's country, all one really feel is impotent anger...

Anil P said...

Balachandran V: The museum at Sarnath is extraordinary for the range of artifacts it houses, and for their beauty, all of them retrieved during the excavation at the Sarnath site just across the road.

Going through the museum one instantly imagines what the actual built up area must've been when all the artifacts that one sees in the Sarnath museum were in their original locations in their original grandeur.

And to think, the museum must house only a fraction of the sculptures from the Sarnath site, the rest having been lost to the Islamic invaders who struck Sarnath with extraoridinary zeal, just the way they did Varanasi / Benares.

And one Hindu king was responsible for dismantling one of the Stupas there as well, for sourcing building material from it for use in Benares!

Like you said, many of the Sculptures in the Sarnath museum are serene. If only we could've seen them in the original setting, in their former glory!

Grannymar said...

Thank you Anil. You have made me revisit the Flag under which I was born. The Irish Flag, with the same three colours Green, White and yellow. It to was adopted at the end of British rule.

ND said...

Great info about the origin of the flag. After all you get one day to flaunt it publicly like this.

Anil P said...

Grannymar: Thank you. Like with the Indian Flag I believe there's a lot of meaning and import behind the story of flags of most countries.

ND: Thank you. Even on other days one can make the flag a part of the everyday in other creative forms.